Monday, September 29, 2014

Following the DNA Trail Back to South Carolina

On February 17, 1936, in Tate County, Mississippi, my 55-year-old maternal grandfather, Simpson Reed (1881–1955), married my much younger maternal grandmother, Minnie Davis, in front of the fireplace in his house, according to a family elder. Among the family members in attendance was his 90-year-old father, William “Bill” Reed (18461937), who was born into slavery. Subsequently, Granddaddy Simpson’s second marriage produced five additional children; one of them is my mother. As a result, I – a fairly young guy who was born in the 1970s – am only three generations from slavery. That’s why I am faced with a greater challenge in determining genealogically how many of my “DNA cousins” are related. Many enslaved African Americans, including my great-grandfather Bill, were permanently separated from family members. Figuring out DNA connections in 23andMe, Gedmatch, and AncestryDNA necessitates a thought process based on facts, as this blog post will demonstrate. A recent and close DNA match entailed a thought process that encompassed the following 7 major facts; some of the facts are not coincidental, in my opinion.


DNA Sharing – As the diagram above shows, my mother is a fairly close match to Stan B. They share 53.5 cM (centimorgans) across 3 segments. To date, he’s my Mom’s fourth highest match in Gedmatch, with a MRCA of 4.0. That means that based on the amount of DNA they share, Gedmatch estimates that their Most Recent Common Ancestor is 4 generations back. Gedmatch is basically saying that Mom and Stan probably share the same great-great-grandparents. According to the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG), third cousins – who are two people who share the same great-great-grandparents – share an average of 53.13 cM (source). Mom and Stan may be around third cousins, which is close kin, in my opinion. But how could they be related? Fortunately, fact no. 2 narrows it down.


DNA Triangulation – Stan also matches Mom's paternal first cousin's granddaughter, Caronde. Mom, Caronde, and I match Stan on the same spot on his chromosome 6 at 30.8 cM. See diagram below. To add, Stan also matches me in AncestryDNA, with a 95% confidence match and a predicted relationship of fourth cousins. Since Mom is closer related to Stan, she shares two additional segments with him, as the diagram above shows. Therefore, the connection is definitely through Mom's father, Granddaddy Simpson Reed. Albeit close in generations, our connection to Stan obviously takes us back to slavery, a time period full of unknowns due to slavery’s inhumanity. This is another challenge at hand.


Grandpa Bill Reed’s S.C. Beginnings – Mom’s paternal grandfather Bill Reed was born just north of Abbeville, South Carolina on Rebecca Reid Barr’s farm, where his parents and paternal grandparents were also enslaved. Rebecca’s late husband, Rev. William H. Barr, had died in 1843. As a young teenage boy, the Barrs sold Grandpa Bill to Rebecca's nephew, Lemuel Reid. Several months after he became free, Grandpa Bill, his younger sister Mary, their first cousin, Glasgow Wilson, and others migrated to Mississippi in January 1866.

The Reid Place - the old plantation home of Lemuel Reid near Abbeville, S.C., as it stood in 2009. It was built in 1861 while Grandpa Bill was enslaved there.


South Carolina Link – As I studied Stan's family tree on, I became interested in his maternal great-grandfather, Dan Kirkwood (18421920) from Lafayette County, Mississippi, a southeast neighbor to Tate County. As noted in the censuses, Dan was born in Mississippi, but his parents were from South Carolina. Stan did not know where in S.C. his Kirkwoods were from. However, I had seen that surname before while researching Abbeville County, S.C. Hmmm…


The white Kirkwoods – A major clue was found in the 1880 census! Living just two doors down from Dan Kirkwood was a white Kirkwood named Robert Nathan Kirkwood. He was 48 years old and born in South Carolina. This discovery set the wheels in motion. Looking at previous censuses (1870, 1860, 1850, and 1840), as well as Internet sources, I quickly discovered that Robert Nathan Kirkwood, and his brothers, Samuel Reid Kirkwood and William C. Kirkwood, who all resided in Lafayette County, were the sons of a man named Hugh Kirkwood from South Carolina. Can you guess where Hugh Kirkwood was from? Yep, you guessed it. Abbeville County! Hugh Kirkwood had moved to Pontotoc County, Mississippi in the 1830s, and his sons later settled into adjacent Lafayette County.


Back to the Abbeville, SC Neighborhood – Digging deeper, the facts get even more interesting and revealing! I discovered that Hugh Kirkwood's first wife, Hannah Wilson, was the daughter of Matthew Wilson (1766-1834). Matthew Wilson was the maternal grandfather of Grandpa Bill's last enslaver, Lemuel Reid. I soon ascertained that the Kirkwoods were quite interconnected with Grandpa Bill’s enslavers! Hugh Kirkwood was also a neighbor of Hugh Reid, who was the father of Rebecca Reid Barr. Hugh Kirkwood also attended Upper Long Cane Presbyterian Church during a time when Rebecca’s husband, Rev. William H. Barr, was the minister. Bob Thompson wrote this note about Hugh Kirkwood:

A neighbor of Hugh Reid, Hugh Kirkwood was a witness to his will and made the inventory of Reid's estate. Hugh Kirkwood was also a witness to Matthew Wilson's will. He appears in the 1830 Census of Abbeville County, SC, but by 1840 had moved to Pontotoc Co., Mississippi, where he owned two and one half sections of land a mile and a half north of Sarepta. He and his second wife Elizabeth were charter members of Old Lebanon Presbyterian Church . . . Hugh and Elizabeth died the same day, October 11, 1855 and are buried in the Sarepta Cemetery.” (Source)

I retrieved the copy of Hugh Reid’s estate papers (1829) from my records, and indeed, Hugh Kirkwood was noted as one of the estate appraisers.


Confirmed Slave-owner & Transporter to Mississippi – Since Bob Thompson’s note revealed Hugh Kirkwood’s year of death (1855), I searched for his probate records to see if Dan Kirkwood and his parents would be listed in a will and/or slave inventory. Luckily, on, I found that slave inventory dated March 11, 1856:

The slave inventory of Hugh Kirkwood’s estate, March 11, 1856, Pontotoc County, Mississippi
Negro woman and child named Binah, $1000.00 (Dan’s mother Mary who lived adjacent to him in 1870)
Cinda, aged 3 years (Dan’s sister)
Mela, age 4 years (Dan’s sister)
Kitty and Prince (Dan’s siblings)
Boy named Daniel, $850.00 (This was Dan Kirkwood.)

1870 Census, Lafayette County: Dan Kirkwood & his family with his mother Mary (55 years old) living next door

Unfortunately, Dan Kirkwood’s death certificate did not provide his parents’ names. Based on the amount of DNA that Mom and Stan share with each other, how could they be around third cousins? Here are my theories based on the unearthed facts:

Theory 1: As explained in 150 Years Later: Broken Ties Mended, I have always suspected that Grandpa Bill’s mother may have come from Rebecca Barr’s father, Hugh Reid, for a number of reasons.

Theory 2: Perhaps Grandpa Bill’s mother and Dan’s mother, Mary Kirkwood, were sisters? Maybe Grandpa Bill’s sister, Mary (born c. 1850), was named after her Aunt Mary who was taken away from Abbeville, S.C. in the 1830s and transported to Mississippi, never to be seen again.

Theory 3: Since the white Kirkwoods, Reids, and Barrs were all living in the same area of Abbeville County, perhaps Rev. William Barr had sold Dan Kirkwood’s father to Hugh Kirkwood before he moved to Mississippi? Perhaps Dan Kirkwood’s father was Grandpa Bill Reed’s paternal or maternal uncle?

I hope to find additional records to prove one of my theories. Obviously, when Grandpa Bill Reed had moved to Mississippi after slavery, he had close relatives in neighboring Lafayette County, too. 150 Years Later discloses how, unbeknownst to him, his paternal grandmother and other close paternal relatives were taken to Pontotoc County, Mississippi in 1859, while his father, Pleasant Barr, was sold away and taken to Tippah County, Mississippi. Although Grandpa Bill had known those family members that William Barr Jr. took to Pontotoc County, he likely did not know anything about the Kirkwoods, who were taken to Mississippi a decade before he was born. Nonetheless, DNA found them!

This picture was taken in 2004 during my family’s visit to Abbeville, South Carolina. The Rough House in downtown Abbeville is owned and operated by descendants of Lemuel Reid.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Tikar People of Cameroon


Africans from the Bight of Biafra region (Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon) comprised of the largest group (40%) forcibly transported to Virginia ports during the transatlantic slave trade. Recent research by Dr. Lisa Aubrey and her team uncovered 166 slave ships from Cameroon. More info about that discovery can be read here. This history of the Tikar people was shared by Dr. John Q. Williams, who received this information from members of the Tikar people of Cameroon about their history.

Tikar History

A special thanks to HAMADJAM Raphaël Athanase Elisée of Douala, Cameroon for sharing the pictures below with me.

According to the oral and documented history of the Tikar people, they originated in present-day Sudan. It is believed that when they inhabited Sudan, they lived adjacent to two groups. The first group comprised of iron-makers/blacksmiths and carpenters in the Meroe Kindgom; this group (ancestors of the Mende people) later left the Sudan and moved west towards Lake Chad. They eventually traveled to the Mali Empire, and along with the town Fulani and Mande, founded the Kingdom of Mani. The second group - ancestors of the Fulani - arrived in the Sudan from Egypt and Ethiopia. These cattle and goat herders moved west to Lake Chad near present-day Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria before traveling across West Africa. It is believed that when the ancestors of the Tikar were in the Sudan, they lived along the Nile River. There, they developed their cattle grazing, iron-making, horse riding, and fighting skills.

At some point in time, the ancestors of the Tikar moved from the Sudan to the Adamawa Northern Region of present-day Cameroon. They settled in a village they named Ngambe (present-day Bankim District) where they intermarried with selected grassland farmers and animal herders.

During the mixing with selected grassland residents, a powerful chief and eventually king came to power. With the skills brought from the Sudan, the Tikar king was able to rule most of northern and central Cameroon. After the death of the king, his oldest son inherited the throne. Soon afterwards, his second son, Share-Yen, and his followers moved to present-day Mfounbam district and started the Mbamound Clan. Ngouo-Nso, a sister, and her followers moved to present-day Koumbo District and created the Koumbo Clan in the present-day state of Mbanso near Mbamenda. The youngest brother moved further south and created the Mbafia Clan in the present-day Mbam state.

The Tikar Empire had strong political traditions.  At the height of the Tikar Empire, fifteen kingdoms or clans existed; the Ngambe was the largest. Future kings and the ruling class always came from this clan and all clan were headed by a Fon who supervised nobles, large farm producers, military leaders, merchants, and town leaders. With superior weapons and fighting on horseback, Tikar soldiers protected the empire, maintained domestic peace, and collected taxes. A caste system existed, but the standard of living for the Tikar was above those from other ethnic groups. The Tikar people was known for their sophistication in government, war, and the arts - including a bronze casting process for making masks.

While the Tikar lived in Cameroon, most of the people with Tikar ancestry lived the "good life". Vocational training was the norm for Tikar boys, and teachers taught various forms of craft-making, woodcarving, mask carving, and making bronze sculptures. The Tikar people also developed a process for using hot wax to make masks and bronze sculptures. During the height of the Tikar Empire, many Tikar people were also gifted in music, dancing, acting, and writing.

The Tikar people had control over the trade routes between the Fulani and Hausa merchants to the north of the Tikar Empire and coastal ports. Due to the Tikar's advanced ceramic techniques and architecture/iron smelting kilns, products were exported north to the Hausa people and south to coastal ports.

For three centuries, the Tikar ruled present-day Cameroon and Central Africa with sophistication, but with a iron fist and heavy tax burdens on people from other ethnic groups. It was also reported that because of their high standard of living, there were more than one million people with Tikar ancestry by 1800.  However, trouble came.  Research revealed that by 1800, several African ethnic groups had joined the Europeans to fight the Tikar people, who were known for their quick ability to learn and their sophistication and for being hated by surrounding Africans.  The Tikar were unable to obtain modern weapons; they were never able to take control over the coast. So, they were caught in the middle between the coast and the north.

As the Tikar people attempted to abandon their traditional grassy savannahs and the plains where they were easy slave trade targets with no natural protection, they were forced to leave their villages with slave traders on one side and four hostile tribes on the other side seeking revenge. One of the strategies they applied to fight off the enemy was to dig moats around villages; these still exist in at least five kingdoms. However, this strategy failed and the survivors found refuge in the forest.

The transatlantic slave trade drained their brightest and most physically fit young people. Having been greatly weakened by war and the slave trade, they became vulnerable to neighboring groups who had been subjected by the Tikar for several centuries. When slavery ended, there were between 60,000 - 75,000 Tikars in Cameroon, and most of them were hiding in forests from slave traders. Today, less than 100,000 Tikars live in Cameroon. They live as small and scattered related groups in the northwestern highlands near the Nigerian border. Much of the Tikar area lies in Cameroon's Adamawa plateau and the western highlands.

The Tikar are among the most industrious people in Cameroon. Urban Tikar boys score the highest marks on math examinations. Most Tikar children earn the highest grades in school.  Urban Tikar students are reported to be the most gifted in arts and crafts, music, writing, and math.

Popular evening Tikar meals include: (1) chicken and tomatoes served on top of rice, (2) thick soups with hot spicy seasonings served on chicken, and (3) a form of fufu. Thick soups served on yams are often eaten in the morning.

Tikar Chiefs

GAH II Ibrahim, the chief of Bankim, the history capital of the Tikar people. 
There are many Tikar villages - Ngambe, Magba, Ntem, Bandam - but the main Tikar village is Bankim.

GAH II Ibrahim, the actual Chief of Bankim, standing near the crowned lake named "SEM SEM".

Left is the Chief of Ina (Tikar village) and right is the actual Chief of Ngambe (Honore MBGAROUMA).

This is a picture of the late chief of Ngambe. Ngambe is one of the Tikar villages. Around his neck is an ivory collar made of elephant tusks. He carries it only once per year, during the time of the festival called "Sweety". It is a traditional Tikar festival during which one calls upon the spirits of the ancestors and asks them to bless the community.

Copyright © 2014 Melvin J. Collier. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Can’t Find Out; Was Bought From a Slave Trader

The death certificate of Nancy Cole, who died in 1914 at age 83 in Tate County, Mississippi
Notation for parents’ names: Can’t find out, was bought from a slave trader in 1845 aged 14 years

Yesterday was Grandparents’ Day, and as I was viewing the many death certificates I have found over the years, I stopped at this one of an elderly grandmother who died in 1914 in Tate County, Mississippi. It is rare to see notes like this on death certificates. Typically, if the informant didn’t know the names of the deceased's parents, the words “don’t know” or “unknown” were written, or the space would be left blank. However, when Nancy Cole’s son was asked who his mother’s parents were, his reply was detailed, sad, and stunning. It was also the reality of many formerly enslaved African Americans. I envision him saying something like this: “Momma came from Tennessee, but I don’t know who her parents were, and I can’t find out, either. She was bought by a slave trader at age 14 in 1845. That's what she told us.” I imagine that the pain of being sold away from her family was so great for Nancy, that she didn’t talk much about her childhood.

For years, I have tried to figure out how my great-great-grandmother, Lucy Milam Davis, was related to Nancy and her children. Many family members, including my mother and her siblings, knew Nancy Cole’s children and grandchildren – the Coles and Freemans of Tate County, Mississippi – as their cousins. No one has ever been able to tell me exactly how they were our cousins. Even my go-to elderly cousin, the late Sammie Lee Davis Hayes (1920-2007), could only say, “All I know is that they were close kin to Grandma Lucy.” Cousin Sammie Lee was my maternal grandmother's first cousin who loved talking about family history; she would tell me anything that she remembered. But, she too didn’t know how her grandmother Lucy was related to Nancy’s descendants.

My great-great-grandmother, Lucy Milam Davis (1846-1927), of Panola County (Como), Mississippi
Daughter of Wade Milam and Margaret “Peggy” Milam

What I do know is that Grandma Lucy was the daughter of Wade Milam, who was born c. 1820 in Alabama, and Peggy Milam, who was born c. 1829 in Williamson County, Tennessee. Initially, I had theorized that perhaps Nancy and Peggy were sisters. Further research into Peggy’s history revealed that her enslaved parents, Adam and Sarah, also had children named Random, Caledonia, and Sam. They all had been enslaved by Edward Warren, who brought them to Marshall County, Mississippi in the 1830s from Williamson County (Franklin), Tennessee. The family was named in an 1839 bill of sale. Peggy and her brother Sam were eventually sold to Joseph Milam of present-day Tate County by 1845. This blog post further explains that research discovery. Even my researching cousin Henrietta, a descendant of Sam Milam, was told by her elders that Nancy Cole’s children were their cousins, too. Maybe Nancy was actually Caledonia? Their ages match perfectly. Caledonia was reported as being 8 years old in that 1839 bill of sale. That possibility is very real; it was not uncommon for some people to be known by different names. Of course, those scenarios make genealogy research extra nerve-wrecking. Unfortunately, a lot of unknowns are not revealed through documentation.

To add, Nancy was married to a man named George Cole, with whom she had at least eight children. According to the 1870 and 1900 censuses, he was born around 1830 in Mississippi. His race/color was consistently reported as “mulatto.” This color designation is presumably accurate; family elders recalled that George and Nancy’s children were “light-skinned.” Since George Cole also fathered one of Peggy’s children, that left me to wonder if maybe the connection could be through my great-great-great-grandfather, Wade Milam, who was always noted as “Black”. But Wade was from Alabama. Could they still have been half-brothers? Right now, I don’t know. 

Maybe one day Nancy Cole will send down more definitive clues. I’ve had that death certificate for over 15 years. I’ve read that rare notation many many times. I remain confident that the pieces of the puzzle will come together.

Monday, September 1, 2014

This Genealogy Stuff is Driving Me Crazy!


For a while, I had concluded that my great-great-grandfather, Robert “Big Bob” Ealy of Leake County, Mississippi, was born in Nash County, North Carolina. Research and oral history identified his last enslaver as a man named William “Billy” Eley, who brought him to Mississippi and used him as a breeder. Further research found that Grandpa Big Bob was an inheritance to Billy Eley’s wife, Frances Bass, from her father, Jesse Bass of Nash County. In 1822, young Bob was bequeathed to young Frances. That’s why I had placed Grandpa Big Bob’s birthplace as Nash County.

However, after uncovering more in July, as I explained in “I Found the Last Slave-owner’s Will, Now What?”, I realized that Grandpa Big Bob may have been born in either Nash County or neighboring Halifax County in North Carolina. The birthplace can be determined when I know exactly when he was born. As many are aware, the word “exactly” with African-American genealogy research is especially speculative in many cases when it comes to birth years and birthplaces. Most enslaved African Americans did not know their exact age. They often based it on how old they approximated themselves to be when an event in history happened during their early years. For example, my maternal great-grandfather Bill Reed told my late cousin Isaac Deberry Sr. (1914-2009) that he was a young teenager when the Civil War started. Cousin Ike had recounted to me the story that Grandpa Bill told him of how he helped his last enslaver Lemuel Reid bury his gold on top of a hill near Abbeville, South Carolina to keep the Union soldiers from taking it. According to the censuses, Grandpa Bill Reed was born in 1846, so he indeed was around 15 years old when the Civil War started.

Well, Grandpa Big Bob Ealy’s ages were reported in four censuses. One can easily deduce that he was born sometime between 1814 and 1820 in North Carolina. However, nearer to what year? The answer to that question, if I can find it, is pivotal in determining exactly where he was born. Shortly, you will see what I mean with this unique situation. The following ages for Grandpa Big Bob were reported in the censuses:

1860 Leake County Slave Schedule: 42 years old --- around 1818
1870 Leake County Census: 51 years old ---- around 1819
1880 Leake County Census: 63 years old ---- around 1817
1900 Scott County Census: 86 years old ---- reported birth month and year were March 1814

Would taking the average of these four approximated years (1814, 1817, 1818, 1819) be considered the “best guess”? Can mathematics and statistics be applied to genealogy when the events of history are based on exact times? However, just for information purposes, the average (mean) of those years is 1817. The median of those four years is 1817.5. Was Grandpa Big Bob born in mid-1817? Probably. Considering the unique situation at hand, I need more than “probably.”

In a nutshell, in July, I had discovered that Grandpa Big Bob’s mother was an enslaved woman named Ann (Annie). Like him, she too was an inheritance to her enslaver’s wife. Grandma Ann was first enslaved by Benjamin Pearce of Halifax County, North Carolina. Benjamin willed her and slaves named Ned and Augustine to his daughter, Frances Pearce, in 1810. Eight years later, on May 20, 1818, Frances married Jesse Bass, who lived in adjacent Nash County. Therefore, one can reasonably surmise that either on May 20th or shortly thereafter, the new bride Frances packed up all of her belongings and moved over into Nash County to live with her new husband and his 11 children from his previous two marriages. She certainly took on a lot, and her property, including Ned, Augustine, and Grandma Ann, became Jesse Bass’ "property." However, the questions in my head are:

(1) Was Grandpa Big Bob an infant when his mother was moved to Nash County? Remember, the mean and median say that his birth year was 1817, if that counts for anything.
(2) Was Grandma Ann pregnant with Grandpa Big Bob when she was moved to Nash County?
(3) Or was Grandpa Big Bob conceived after his mother Ann was moved to Nash County?

How in the world will I find my answer! If family members and I wanted to visit the vicinity of his birthplace, where would we go? Wish me luck with that one!